The great dealership whack back

Jan. 1, 2020
There’s some commonality between sitting on death row and sitting in the office of a new car salesperson. Either way, you know you’re going to get whacked.

There’s some commonality between sitting on death row and sitting in the office of a new car salesperson. Either way, you know you’re going to get whacked. (At least you have a chance on death row: you might get a reprieve from the governor.)

So there you are sitting in the new car salesman’s office. Your stomach’s churning and your head’s throbbing. The game has begun. And it’s a familiar one: the salesman disappears supposedly to help you get a great deal by convincing his manager that you are the person on that particular day who deserves a deal. Make no mistake: there’s no doubt that a great deal is being put together...for the dealership!

While you wait and hope for a great deal, the salesperson is most likely doing paperwork on other deals or catching up on his bathroom reading. Then, when he’s made you wait long enough, he appears with the deal. The one that he “stuck his neck out” just for you. What a great guy, willing to give up profits for himself and his dealership just to make sure you’re a happy customer.

Of course, that’s not the end of the game. You’re savvy enough to know that there’s even a better deal to be had so you ask for more. You counter and then probably counter again. Good work, you’ve settled right where they knew you would settle. In dealership language, you’ve been “konked” over the head and you feel good about it. More than likely, you’ll brag to your friends about the “great deal” you got and how well you liked the salesperson. Deep down, though, you’re embarrassed that you got konked.

But it’s not my intent to make you feel bad about your last car deal. My intent is to make you angry enough to challenge dealerships who are getting a free maintenance and service ride at your expense. Doesn’t it bother you that they utilize some of the most questionable business practices almost without question? Just ask yourself: isn’t it ironic that consumers don’t trust dealerships from the time they step onto their lots only to wind up having their cars serviced by dealerships for an extended period of time? You beg, “Oh, abuse me some more and I’ll be your lifetime customer!”

We in the aftermarket just accept the fact that customers will return to dealerships not only for their warranty work but also for their regular maintenance. We just roll over as if it’s business not worth fighting for. Our strategy has been –– and continues to be –– getting as much business after the warranty period is over.

But the warranty period seems to never end.  In case you haven’t noticed, the trend is for the OEMs to continue to extend the life of their warranties. The latest to do so is Mitsubishi. It follows Hyundai, Kia and Suzuki as 100,000-mile miracles. Over time, other OEMs will be forced to follow.

Moreover, the OEMs not yet offering 100,000-mile warranties have continually increased their supplemental extended warranties, locking customers in up to the 100,000-mile mark.

If that’s not bad enough, leasing is making a comeback. Although leasing dropped off substantially from 1999 with a record 25 percent of new car buyers choosing that option, it is now rising steadily which, of course, means consumers will do the zombie march back to the dealers for their maintenance and service work.

From the outset, consumers are conditioned to return to dealerships for their car upkeep. After all, they are given the pragmatic maintenance tool –– an owner’s manual that specifies warranty and service information. Plus, there’s the psychology of new car owners trying to keep their new car new. Logically, consumers think, the best way to do that is to return to their dealerships. As a result, consumers don’t even consider the aftermarket, which puts us on the outside looking in.

Most new car buyers don’t know they have a choice to have their maintenance done somewhere other than the dealerships. Their concern is a real one...that their warranties will be voided. We know that’s not true but, unless we tell the public they have a choice, who will? The dealerships? The omnipotent OEMs?

I propose that in an era where the dealerships are aggressively coming after our business, we should counter with trying to get some of their business that they take for granted. 

Clearly then, it’s time to launch an industry campaign to convince new car buyers to consider –– as a first choice –– aftermarket sources for parts and repairs. Given that we don’t have tens of millions of dollars to spend on an advertising campaign, this will have to come from a grass roots effort.

For starters, we’ll need signs in all the parts stores and repair shops in America. It doesn’t matter if the signs are homemade or professionally designed, just as long as they have a message along these lines –– “New car parts and service you can trust” or “Shop here for reliable new car parts and service.” Along with that, store and shop personnel should be drilled to mention the aftermarket parts and service alternative whether they’re at work or at home talking to their friends or family.

Please contact me to discuss what else we can do as an industry to whack back. As an incentive, just think back to the last time you bought a new car.

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